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A dark and stormy run
The physical exertion of running can leave us too tired to pretend everything is fine it can make us face our most raw emotions head on. - photo by Kim Cowart
Into every life a little rain must fall. Or buckets of rain. With lightning. And hail.

Its 11 oclock at night somewhere in Idaho, and Im watching the rain blow sideways from the back seat of Kellis Suburban. I love a rainy night more than Eddie Rabbitt, but I like it curled up under the covers with a good book. Instead, Im watching the heavens open as I double knot my shoes and try to make my visor cooperate with my headlamp. Any minute I will step outside and run 8.4 miles soaking wet by choice. I could list a million reasons why I accepted an invitation to run with the Fat Boy Epic Relay team, but really I just wanted to hang out with friends. Running was the price I chose to pay to eat gallons of Swedish Fish and gossip for two days straight. I was about to get more than I bargained for.

The last year hasnt been the easiest. An accumulation of stresses has grown into a giant weight on my shoulders. Its hard to keep your chin up when the albatross around your neck weighs more than you do. The very shocking and sudden death of a close friend, the cancer that crept into the lives of two other friends and my dad, navigating stormy pre-teen seas, a nagging hamstring injury that has curtailed my running, and changes in job responsibilities are just some of the little straws threatening to break this camels back for some time.

Like most of us, I kept these straws under my mattress, hidden from view. If they did come up in conversation, I brushed off their impact on my life with a smile and a, Thats life! retort. Because, lets be honest, my life overall is pretty great. My husband and I both have jobs we love that provide very well for our family. Our children are healthy and thriving in a fantastic school. We have wonderful friendships, and a strong community and family around us to support us. I could name 10 people who have struggles so much greater than my own that it feels unfair to claim mine.

So I smile, keep myself busy and tell everyone including myself that everything is fine.

And thats how I started my dark and stormy run assuring myself that everything was fine. I strapped on my nighttime gear, stepped out of the van, and just ran. The master plan was simple run one mile at a time. It was slow from the start. My hamstring started talking back to me almost immediately. After 2.5 miles on the road, I turned left onto a dirt path. Dirt plus water equals mud. Im not a trail runner. I was unsteady on my feet. Every time I found solid ground, it would give way to another puddle and a few inches of mud. It would be more accurate to say I was skating.

My van shadowed me, giving me extra light and unspoken support as I ran just one more mile. Occasionally they would dish out encouraging words and water. I knew at any point I could quit and no one would think less of me. Just one more mile.

After what seemed to be an eternity, I checked my watch. Five miles. Just then two runners flew by. Discouraged, but not beaten, I told my team, Just one more mile.

I pulled down my visor, focused my eyes on the road directly in front and kept moving. As my body grew more exhausted, my thoughts wandered. I thought of our teammate and friend Marie and my dad, both fighting cancer. They couldnt just quit cancer and climb in the van when they were sick of it.

I thought of my daughters. Theyre approaching a time in their lives wherein their character will be shaped and tested. What would I tell them if I quit this run? To never give up unless its really, really hard? To be strong unless you get tired?

I kept running, like Id been doing all year, just one more mile.

At last I reached the exchange point, passed off the baton to Kelli and walked to the van. There was no ecstatic finish. No revelation of joy in that run. I hated every second of it. But the beauty of running is that it strips away the pretense. I was too physically exhausted to keep all of my pent-up emotions inside, to pretend everything was fine. And I cried. Shoulder shaking sob-type crying. Over the last few miles, with nothing pressing for my attention and my emotions on the surface, I finally grieved the death of our friend Paul. I shook my fists at the stupid cancer that had crept into our lives. I let out the fear that I was falling short as a mom. I released the anger I had at other peoples choices that had affected people I loved.

I assured my teammates I was just tired, and that was true. I was tired of trying to push all that emotion down, down, down. I had to let it out.

As runner No. 7, I had accepted the responsibility of covering those miles for our team. No one else could do it for me. I had to finish that run on my own, but I was never alone. It may have been the blackest night, and the storms were definitely raging, but I was never left without a life vest. When I was done, Kelli took over. Then Andrea. Then Rendi. Then Emily. Then Jackie. And always with Marie cheering us on as she ran her own race from the back seat.

We all have dark and stormy runs. We may want to call it quits and find refuge in the warmth of the van. It may never get easier and we may hate every step. We may curse the mud and puddles while watching others fly by us with seeming ease. But if we keep running long enough, the puddles will dry, the mud will disappear and it will end. Just keep going knowing there are people cheering you on, encouraging you to finish.

Just one more mile.
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